Monday, July 27, 2015

Artifact in the Spotlight: Beginnings of the Coast Guard

The Revenue Cutter Service was established by Congress on August 4, 1790.  Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and prevent smuggling. The service received its present name, U.S. Coast Guard, in 1915 under an act of Congress that merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life-Saving Service, thereby providing the nation with a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws. (Artifact in the Naval War College Museum collection)

by John Kennedy
Director of Education

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

From Hero to Penury

On July 18, 1779, Commodore Abraham Whipple’s squadron, consisting of Continental frigates Providence, Queen of France and sloop Ranger, captured the largest value of prize vessels during the American Revolution.  Having left from Boston one month prior, they sailed east toward the Newfoundland Banks where they met and captured 11 British vessels sailing from Jamaica, later valued in excess of one million dollars.
Abraham Whipple was born September 26, 1733, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Noah and Mary (Dexter) Whipple.  Taking to the sea at an early age, Whipple learned seamanship and navigation and quickly established himself as a captain plying the West Indies trade routes.  But it was during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) that his courage and daring gained him success as a privateer operating against French vessel.  During the period 1759-1760, he is credited with capturing thirty-three prizes, a number that attests to his skill and daring.
As a ship captain, his reputation continued to grow; however, it was in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War that Whipple stepped up and became one of the early leaders of the cause for freedom.  It was on the night of June 9, 1772 when the HMS Gaspee ran aground.  Whipple led a group of fifty men to capture the vessel and burn it to the waterline, shedding what was arguably the first blood shed in the revolutionary cause. 
Upon the creation of the Rhode Island Navy, Whipple became its first commodore.  In the sloop Katy, he immediately sought out the enemy.  His first effort was in Narragansett Bay when he engaged the tender Diana, capturing and sending her into Providence. 
Appointed to the rank of captain in the Continental Navy by the naval committee on December 22, 1775,  his commission as captain of the Providence was not signed by John Hancock until October 10, 1776. 
Shortly after his success off of the Newfoundland Banks, however, his luck ran out.  Sent to augment the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, which was being besieged by the British, Commodore Whipple and his squadron were outmanned and outgunned and ultimately captured when the city fell. 
He, as the commander of naval forces, was placed on a parole of honor by British Vice Admiral Arbuthnot and, as he was not quickly exchanged, he saw little action during the remainder of the Revolutionary War.
Upon returning to his farm in Cranston, RI, Whipple is unable to pay debt that had accumulated during his absence as Congress refused to disburse back pay to the captain who had captured over a million dollars’ worth of trade.  When pay was finally forthcoming, he had to sell the securities at an eighty percent discount.  In 1788 he moved with his wife to the Northwest Territory, present day Ohio, where he is forced to apply to Congress for a pension.  He was awarded a pension of $30 dollars per month, considered half-pay for a captain at the time.
He died in Marietta, Ohio, May 19, 1819, at the age of eighty-six.
By John Kennedy, Director of Education

The WAVES Arrive

            It was on July 30, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act establishing the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).  Initially established as a subset of the Naval Reserves as the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), the acronym WAVES stuck.  The word “Emergency” had been inserted into the name to give an implicit understanding that women would not be allowed to continue following the war’s conclusion.  Despite the negative reception that was initially received by the women, from society at large  unprepared to accept women in a military role and by males in general, the women served well in any role given, even though their participation was severely restricted to opportunities in the continental United States. 
            It was not until the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625) on June 12, 1948, that women achieved a permanent, regular status in the Navy.  Women were still excluded, however, from vessels that might see combat.

            During the World War II, the accession programs for women entering the Volunteer Reserve had been the V9 WAVE Officer Candidate Volunteer Program and the V10 WAVE Enlisted Rating Volunteer Program.  With the transition to regular status, the programs were renamed to W9 Women’s Officer Training and W10 Women’s Enlisted Training programs.
            Newport, Rhode Island, a town of many naval firsts (first Naval Training Station, first War College) soon added a new first by establishing the first indoctrination unit for women naval officers in the United States.  It was advertised as the “Annapolis for Women.”

The Women Officers Quarters (WOQ) was Building 113 and was located across from the garage on Perry Street, the site of the recently demolished Building 444.  They ate at the Commissioned Officers’ Mess (Closed) in Building 108, which is now the parking lot across from Brett Hall.  Their average mess bill was $42.00.  As outlined in the 1951 Officer Indoctrination Unit (W) Handbook, “Faultless grooming shall be observed at all time” and “Religion, politics, men and women are not discussed at the mess table.”
Captain Joy Bright Hancock was promoted to the rank of captain in July 1946 and appointed to lead the WAVES.  She was one of the first eight women to be commissioned in the regular Navy and then continued to lead in the position of Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women until 1953.  In the OIU (W) Handbook, Captain Hancock listed four rules for a successful woman naval officer: (1) Know and obey the regulations; (2) Know your enlisted personnel and discharge unceasingly your responsibilities to them; (3) When assigned, give that assignment everything you possess, be the job routine or difficult; and (4) Bring only credit to your service by your personal appearance and your conduct.  She stated, “The easiest way to live up to this fourth rule is to remember always that you are a lady – for a lady in the truest sense of the word is a woman whose habits, manners, and sentiments are those characteristic of the highest degree of refinement.” 
Congratulations to the WAVES and their proud history, as well as those who have followed.
Posted by John Kennedy, Director of Museum Education

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bennington - A Hard-luck History

            Located in the southwest corner of Vermont, Bennington was the site of a battle that took place in 1777 as a part of the larger Saratoga campaign that led to the surrender of General John Burgoyne.
            The Navy commissioned its Bennington on June 20, 1891.  It was Gunboat No. 4 and was part of a new class of steel-hulled gunboats.  On July 21, 1905, she experienced a boiler explosion and sank with the loss of one officer and 65 men being killed.  All of those who survived suffered some injury.  Although refloated, her condition precluded repairs and she was scrapped.
            The second Bennington commissioned was USS Bennington (CV-20).  Following sea trials in December 1944, she saw extensive action in the Pacific during the final phases of World War II.  After the war, Bennington was decommissioned and mothballed as part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.  Four years later, she was modernized to be able to accept the new jet aircraft and placed in active service with the new designation of an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-20). 
            While on a training cruise in 1953, Bennington suffered an explosion in her number 1 fireroom.  While the fire claimed the lives of eleven men, the damage control team was able to minimize damage. 
            The following year, USS Bennington was conducting carrier qualifications for the embarked Air Group 181.  On the morning of May 26 as she began to launch aircraft, a series of explosion rocked the ship as the port side catapult accumulator burst and released vaporized lubricating oil which then detonated, enveloping the wardroom and crew’s mess.  While the crew fought the fire and tried to save their ship, they were able to launch all aircraft.  Ninety-one men were killed outright and twelve would die later from their injuries.  Over 203 were injured. 
Eighty-two casualties were brought to the Naval Hospital in Newport, many in serious and critical condition.  They had been brought by helicopter to the hospital pier and by ambulance the rest of the way.  Local civilian physicians and nurses augmented naval medical personnel from the base and the fleet.  Over 1600 blood donors were received on the first call.  Many of the lives that were saved were the result of helicopters evacuating the wounded to shore facilities for rapid treatment and  the long hours of dedicated care by medical personnel. 
            Bennington went through extensive repairs and, while in the yards, received an angled flight deck for improved air operations and an enclosed hurricane bow for protection in heavy weather.
            In 1995, the Bennington became the first aircraft carrier to be sold for scrap outside the United States.  There has not been another naval vessel named Bennington.
            On May 26, 2004, a bronze plaque was located at Fort Adams State Park to memorialize the event and the crewmembers who died.

John Kennedy
Director of Education 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Flag Day

On this Flag Day, we’d like to highlight a flag in our collection that was used for a very special purpose during World War II. American air crew members who flew missions over foreign countries often carried small pieces of fabric known as “blood chits”. They identified the service member as a friendly soldier or airman and were meant to be given to local civilians in the event of a bail out or forced landing. Blood chits carried messages asking locals to help the downed service member return to friendly lines and often promised a reward for doing so.

Blood chit carried by Lieutenant William L. Mullin, USNR
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mrs. Marcia Mullin

This is an example of a blood chit carried by air crews who flew in the China-Burma-India theater. It belonged to Lieutenant William L. Mullin, USNR, who served as an Air Combat Intelligence Officer on the staff of Commander, Aircraft, Seventh Fleet, and performed temporary duty with Patrol Bombing Squadron 33. The translations are in Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Kachin, Libu, and Urdu. They read, “This foreign person (American) has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care.” Each chit also had a serial number that could be used to identify the individual who carried it.

A Chinese soldier points to the blood chit on the back of this American pilot’s jacket

The first Americans to use blood chits were the Flying Tigers of the 1st American Volunteer Group which began operating in China soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Initially they sewed the chits to the backs of their jackets and identified themselves as Allied airmen by displaying both the American and Nationalist Chinese flags. China was in the middle of a civil war at the same time it was fighting the Japanese, however, and some areas of the country were ruled by Communist forces. The Flying Tigers soon realized that the Nationalist flag would not be a welcome sight if they had to bail out over Communist territory, so they began sewing the flags to the insides of their jackets or carrying them in their pockets instead.

Blood chits were simple, effective tools for helping downed airmen reach friendly lines. They proved to be quite popular with American air crews, and the U.S. military eventually used them in all theaters of the war.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On This Day in History: Secretary of the Navy Orders Construction of Naval Torpedo Station

Illustration of Naval Torpedo Station, 1876

On this day in 1869, Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie ordered the construction of the Naval Torpedo Station (NTS) on Goat Island in Newport. The NTS was the first U.S. Navy installation dedicated to manufacturing torpedoes, experimenting with new designs, and instructing personnel in their use. It provided the bulk of the Navy’s torpedoes through two world wars and operated continuously until closing in 1951, although its research and development activities continue today at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

During the Civil War, twenty-eight ships sank from contacting torpedoes. These weapons fell into two categories: stationary floating torpedoes (mines in today’s parlance) and spar torpedoes. The latter consisted of an explosive charge secured to the end of a long pole that jutted out over the bow of the vessel that carried it. The attacker had to ram the torpedo into the side of an enemy ship and then manually detonate the explosive with a trigger mechanism. While effective if properly delivered, they required the crew to expose themselves to enemy fire as well as the explosive force of the torpedo itself.

Fish torpedo (above) and Howell torpedo (below)

The Navy established the NTS to develop new torpedoes that were both more deadly and put the operator at less risk. Much of the early work at the NTS built upon the success of a British designer named Robert Whitehead who, in 1866, produced the world’s first “automobile torpedo.” Whitehead’s design could be launched from a ship and carried an eighteen pound charge for 700 yards at six knots. By 1871, the NTS debuted an improved version of the Whitehead torpedo known as the Fish. Another design known as the Howell torpedo became the first self-propelled weapon issued to the U.S. Navy in 1889.

Initially, NTS designers worked on both automobile torpedoes and mines. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over responsibility for mines between 1871 and the start of World War I as part of their mission to provide for the fixed defenses of America’s harbors. This left NTS free to concentrate on self-propelled designs at a time when the Navy was undergoing the most radical transformation in its history. The old wooden warships of the Civil War navy were gradually being replaced by new steel ships that carried their guns in turrets and could operate under steam or sail. While rifled guns still ruled the day in battle, improvements in torpedo design made them a greater threat to capital ships. They became especially dangerous when they were mounted on small, fast-moving vessels called torpedo boats that could dart in close to launch their weapons and moved too quickly to be targeted by the guns of their quarry.

Drawing by J.O. Davidson, 1888
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
January 26, 1889

During the early years of its existence, students at the Naval War College spent a great deal of time studying the question of how best to employ torpedoes. When a reporter from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper visited the school in 1888, he noted that the classes used war games to try to predict the impact of new technology on naval tactics and strategy:

“While the cruisers and torpedo-boats of the new navy are developing at the ship-yards, the officers who are to manoeuvre these engines of modern warfare in the future are equipping themselves with practical experiments, and seeing service by means of imaginary combats on the chart and blackboard.”

Future innovations such as submarines and aircraft would further disrupt conventional thinking about the best ways to use torpedoes. From 1869 to 1951, the NTS served as the premier facility for manufacturing and experimenting with these weapons.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On This Day in History: The Convoy System

Naval History and Heritage Command photograph
Courtesy of Paul Silverstone, 1982
The first transatlantic convoy to reach Great Britain departed Hampton Roads, Virginia, on this day in 1917. The United States had entered World War I the previous month and now faced the challenge of how to get men and material safely to the European theater. Germany’s u-boats had been operating in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean since the early days of the war and made any voyage a risky proposition. They were so effective that by April 1916, the British were rationing food to civilians and had only a six weeks’ supply of wheat left in reserve.

One reason the u-boats were initially so successful was that for the first three years of the war, merchant ships sailed individually with no warships escorting them. Great Britain’s Admiralty felt that grouping ships together in convoys only presented a larger target to prowling submarines, and that the chances for detection were much less if the ships spread out and made their own way across the ocean. Inevitably, the u-boats would find some of them and sink them, but the Admiralty assumed that this method would minimize losses.

Vice Admiral William Sims, former President of the Naval War College and commander of all U.S. naval forces in Europe, disagreed. In his meetings with First Sea Lord Sir John Jellicoe, he pressed the Royal Navy to adopt the convoy system. April 1917 had seen the highest shipping losses of any month so far during the war: 373 ships from Allied and neutral countries weighing 873,754 tons. By May, Jellicoe was ready to authorize convoys as long as the U.S. promised to provide some of the escorts. The first convoy left Gibraltar on May 10 with seventeen ships and two escorts, arriving safely in Great Britain twelve days later. The second left from Hampton Roads on May 24 escorted by HMS Roxburgh and lost only one ship to u-boat attack.

Naval History and Heritage Command photograph
The Americans borrowed some tricks from their British counterparts to further frustrate the efforts of the u-boat captains. One of these was a unique camouflage scheme known as dazzle. In order to make a successful torpedo attack, u-boats had to observe a target for an extended length of time and correctly estimate its size, range, speed, and heading. Unlike other camouflage schemes, dazzle did nothing to prevent a ship from being detected. Instead, the jarring patterns of lines, curves, and stripes broke up the ship’s outline and made it very difficult for an observer to determine at what angle he was viewing the target.

WWI Victory Loan Drive Poster, 1918
Leon Alaric Shafer (1866-1940)
Library of Congress
It remains difficult to say whether or not dazzle actually worked better than other camouflage schemes. Of the convoy system, however, there can be no doubt that it greatly contributed to the Allied war effort by ensuring the safe passage of thousands of merchantmen and troop ships. Karl Doenitz, the man who would go on to lead Germany’s u-boat campaign during the Second World War, said of the introduction of the convoy system:

The oceans at once became bare and empty. For long periods at a time, the U-boats, operating individually, would see nothing at all; and then suddenly up would loom a huge concourse of ships, thirty or fifty or more of them, surrounded by a strong escort of warships of all types. The solitary U-boat, which most probably had sighted the convoy purely by chance, would then attack, thrusting again and again ... for perhaps several days and nights until the physical exhaustion of the command and crew called a halt. The lone U-boat might well sink one or two ships, or even several, but that was a poor percentage of the whole. The convoy would steam on. In most cases, no other German U-boat would catch sight of it and it would reach Britain, bringing a rich cargo of foodstuffs and raw materials safely to port.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum